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Story and Perspective

Upper Egypt: Local Partners Take the Lead for Women’s Health and Empowerment

Mahi Bebawi

Photography by: Pathfinder Egypt

For more than 40 years, Pathfinder has worked with local partners in Egypt to drive demand for family planning and women’s health services to empower women and girls. We have collaborated directly with local communities and organizations to build programs that respond to the actual needs of the people we reach.

Our locally driven, community-based programs have served people in the most rural and impoverished areas of Upper Egypt and were the foundation of our work through the 2011 political revolution and its aftermath. Our local approach to health and development is something I am proud of, and one that Pathfinder carried forth through the Takamol, Fostering Opportunities in Rural Southern Areas (FORSA), and Momken projects—and through our Ma’an project today.

Home visit with woman and child in Sohag governorate

Ma’an—which means “together”—operates in four districts of Sohag governorate, an area where just over one-quarter of married women use modern contraception, and the majority of families live in poverty. Women have an average of more than four children in their lifetimes, often without the means to support them.

The Ma’an project applies Pathfinder’s experience in Egypt, and uses a strategic market-based approach—one that encourages demand for and acceptance of family planning, reproductive health, and maternal health services, while improving the quality and reach of those services and empowering women and girls.

A Pathfinder-led workshop where women learn negotiation and decision-making skills, about gender roles, and the importance of women’s roles in society

Ma’an specifically focuses on reaching young married women and first-time parents by:

  • Strengthening the capacity of private and nongovernmental organization (NGO) clinics to respond to the health and family planning needs of young married women and first-time parents, and ensuring all health clinics in Sohag provide standardized, quality care that is aligned with the national family planning strategy.
  • Engaging influencers, such as religious leaders, young people, women’s groups, and other community members, to encourage acceptance and use of family planning and reproductive health services.

Local NGOs in the lead

Sohbet El Kheir, a local NGO, will lead the Ma’an project and oversee subgrants to five additional local NGOs. Our in-depth work with local NGOs in Egypt, like Sohbet El Kheir, has enabled them to play a lead implementation role in projects funded by international donors. Through Pathfinder’s FORSA project, for example, we strengthened capacity of local NGOs in the areas of proposal writing, networking, and organizational and financial management.

Sohbet El Khair NGO for Health Education and Community Development cooperated with Pathfinder International during four projects, and this cooperation had a clear impact on the development of institutional capacities and work within the association.

Sohbet Eh Khair, Staff Representative

Ambassadors of Change

When communities are thoughtfully engaged in implementing a program, they develop a sense of ownership, take their roles seriously, and do their best to involve more people from their surrounding community. People trust those they know best, so engaging community members as advocates with each other is a credible way to provide information on sensitive topics and gives the approach great potential for scale.

Ma’an builds on Pathfinder’s experience with community engagement through its “Ambassadors of Change” approach. Ambassadors of Change refer to community members who will be engaged to work as local advocates in their communities. Through this approach, 6,000 community members (3,000 women and 3,000 men) will be engaged to encourage acceptance and use of family planning, reproductive and maternal health care, multiplying the project’s effect through the inherent power of community members talking to each other about health.

Ambassadors of Change Approach

Service delivery and community engagement tools

Ma’an will use updated versions of tools developed under Pathfinder’s Takamol project, many of which Egypt’s Ministry of Health and Population continues to use today. This includes curricula on improving quality of family planning and reproductive health care, integration of family planning and maternal health care, and guidance on how to engage religious leaders in driving acceptance and demand for services.

Engaging men and communities through partnerships with religious leaders

Religion is central to communities in Sohag and throughout Egypt, and Ma’an will continue to incorporate this powerful approach. Our approach builds on experience collaborating closely with Muslim and Christian religious leaders (who are both women and men) to reach communities with information on family planning and encourage the empowerment of women and girls. This includes debunking misperceptions about the family planning, engaging men to support women’s use of family planning, and reducing the social stigma related to talking about these topics.

Family planning as a gateway to women’s empowerment

A woman operating her business as a seamstress, with initial assistance from Pathfinder’s FORSA Project

Women having power over household decisions is the first step to their empowerment, and family planning is essential to women exercising their decision-making power. Ma’an will work through local NGOs to empower women with access to family planning information and services and the ability to tap into the opportunities that come along with reproductive autonomy. This women’s empowerment work builds on Pathfinder’s work in the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian political revolution. With Egypt’s economy in shambles and multitudes struggling to get by, Pathfinder’s FORSA project provided countless opportunities to women and communities in underserved and underprivileged regions of Assuit and Sohag governorates, including training and jobs, family planning and reproductive health information and services, and assistance to women starting their own businesses—many that still operate today.

Ma’an is a project with great potential for scale and sustainability, given its approaches that are rooted in local systems and communities. Pathfinder will continue to work closely with the local NGOs administering the program to ensure well-rooted interventions. We will work through our local partners to scale up the most successful approaches to other areas of Egypt for women’s health and empowerment.

Learn more about Pathfinder’s projects in Egypt >>

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